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VIR to play pivotal role in ALMS title chase

A new venue for the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón looks to play a huge role in determining the 2012 ALMS champions. 

The VIR 240 on Saturday is the first race at Virginia International Raceway for America’s premier sports car racing championship. The four-hour race — hence the ‘240’ — pays two additional points per position, a critical factor with all but two titles up for grabs.

Thirty-two cars on the entry list are set for the ninth round of the 10-race 2012 ALMS championship. Developments from the Sept. 1 Baltimore Sports Car Challenge presented by SRT clarified some title chases while others… not so much. Forty-six points remain available to winners in the final two races – 22 at VIR and 24 at Road Atlanta’s Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda.

A large number of ALMS teams – including Muscle Milk Pickett Racing - spent time during the summer testing at VIR, and the outlook for the race is breath-taking. Teams will compete on the 3.27-mile, 17-turn road circuit that has a chance to set ALMS speed records. 

A 1-2 finish for Dyson Racing and third-place result for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing tightened up the P1 points race. Five points separate the two teams, with Muscle Milk’s Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr leading Chris Dyson and Guy Smith by nine points.

Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner increased their GT driver’s championship lead with a runner-up finish in Baltimore. Corvette drivers hold the top four spots – Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen are second – but there are six drivers within 10 points of third place.

Chevrolet and Corvette Racing hold solid – albeit not quite comfortable – leads in the manufacturer and team championships, respectively. Chevrolet’s nearest competitors are BMW (19 points back) and Porsche (22 points back), while Corvette Racing has a 24-point cushion back to BMW Team RLL.

Level 5 Motorsports was the overall race-winner at Baltimore, but most important was the P2 victory that gave Scott Tucker and Christophe Bouchut breathing room in the driver’s championship. The pairing picked up seven points on Conquest Endurance’s David Heinemeier-Hansson and Martin Plowman, as did Level 5 in the team standings. Tucker and Bouchut now hold a 12-point lead in the P2 driver points, while Level 5 is 19 points ahead of Conquest Endurance in the team championship.

The two Challenge classes are the closest to being sorted out among championships. Alex Popow has a 32-point lead in Prototype Challenge over Colin Braun and Jon Bennett in a battle of CORE autosport drivers. CORE already clinched the team championship.

In GT Challenge, Alex Job Racing’s Cooper MacNeil leads the driver’s championship by 34 points over teammate Leh Keen. MacNeil has been out front in the championship since the season’s second round at Long Beach. Green Hornet Racing’s Peter LeSaffre and Damien Faulkner remain alive; they trail MacNeil by 35 points. Alex Job Racing leads Green Hornet by 33 points in the team standings and by 35 points over TRG.

The next round of the ALMS championship is the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón VIR 240 from Virginia International Raceway. The four-hour race is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15. ESPN2’s broadcast begins at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 16. Full, live coverage starts at 2:15 p.m. on ESPN3.